Mar 12/98: Petter breaks govt. silence over Gustafsen


The Martlet, University of Victoria Student Newspaper
March 12, 1998
Chris Morabito

An NDP cabinet minister has broken the party's silence regarding the Gustafsen Lake siege which occurred in the summer of 1995 at a sacred sundance site on unceded Shuswap territory.

Last week in a taped interview with CFUV radio, the BC intergovernmental affairs minister Andrew Petter placed responsibility for an inquiry into the siege with the federal government.

"The RCMP was probably the central player [in the conflict]," said Petter.

Asked why the BC NDP have thus far resisted demands for an inquiry into the standoff, Petter said, "The provinces do not have the authority to make inquiries into the conduct of the RCMP. If there were to be such an inquiry, it would come more from the federal government", said Petter.

This contradicts claims made by Solicitor General of Canada Andy Scott who is the federal minister responsible for the RCMP.

In response to a letter condemning the police siege, Mr. Scott, on Dec. 5, 1997 wrote: "the administration of justice is within the jurisdiction of the provincial government... These matters do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Solicitor General of Canada."

And on September 2, 1995, then Solicitor General Herb Gray's special assistant said the "confrontation is a BC law enforcement issue that is best handled by the provincial attorney-general."

The largest paramilitary operation in Canadian history was spearheaded by BC Attorney General/Human Rights minister Ujjal Dosanjh, who during the conflict said that he was "in constant contact with the RCMP," and that the siege was "a criminal matter" that had "nothing to do with Aboriginal land claims or sundance ceremonies."

In response to calls from for international human rights observers, on Sept. 14, 1995 Mr . Dosanjh said: "There shall be no alien intervention into the affairs of this state."

With the provincial and federal governments deflecting responsibility for the police siege onto each other, the call for independent international participation in anyinquiry into Gustafsen Lake grows ever more pertinent.

Kootenai elder Bill Lightbown is a spokesperson for the Ts'peten Defence Committe, which is pressuring for a public inquiry into Gustafsen Lake as well as the release of political prisoners William Jones Ignace (wolverine) and OJ Pitawanakwat.

Lightbown finds it unbelieveable that the provincial NDP could lay responsibility for an inquiry with the federal government.

According to Lightbown, "The bottom line is they [the province] requested the RCMP under direction of Dosanjh, who ordered the RCMP into Gustafsen Lake. They were also responsible for pressing the federal government to involve the army," said Lightbown.

"There appeared to be no question at the time that Dosanjh was in charge and in control of the whole incident," said Lightbown.

When Petter was questioned further, he said, "I guess I'm not in a position where I'd want to comment. This is a pretty controversial issue. The Attorney General is probably closer to it than I am."

Lightbown believes the NDP is solely responsible for calling an inquiry into Gustafsen Lake.

"The NDP provincial government cannot ignore its duty to the BC and Canadian public by continuing to stonewall the requirement for a public inquiry," said Lightbown.

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